ARLINGTON -- The Arlington School District board began to weigh the benefits of a new teacher mentor program against the associated costs at its Wednesday meeting.
The proposal from the Arlington teachers’ association was presented to the board by union president Brian Howe, who said the program would pair veteran teachers with new teachers to observe and offer feedback for a year.
"It takes either a teacher new to the profession or new to the district through a process and it pairs them up with a trained mentor who then works with that teacher throughout the year," Howe said. "It really involves taking the teacher and looking at their practice as a new teacher, looking at their instruction, and, more and more, teacher mentoring is changing to actually work with new teachers to assess student work."
Howe described mentoring programs as a best practice in most school districts in the state and country -- including neighboring Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in Bennington.
Howe stressed that the intent is not to provide new teachers with new content in their subject area, but about some of the things teachers do not spend much time learning in traditional training.
"It’s not mentoring in the pedagogy you get in teacher preparation, it’s really classroom practice ... it’s really focusing on what you do as a teacher on a day to day basis to make sure you’re reaching the students," Howe said. "We all need to move towards the classroom practice of looking at our student performance, not just on a weekly quiz or test, but on a daily occurrence in class to inform our instruction, and that is what mentoring is changing to."
When most successful, Howe said, the mentors also benefit from this type of program.
The hope from the union, which has been working with high school Principal Kerry Csizmesia on the proposal, is to have the mentor program started this school year.
"We have some teachers who are brand new to teaching. We also have teachers that are a year into teaching who would like to go through this mentoring process," Howe said.
Beginning this year would also allow for the program to be in full swing by next year when there will be a need for at least four more new teachers.
The board spoke favorably about providing the opportunity, although concerns were raised about unknown costs associated with the program.
Training would be required for the mentors themselves as well as five other workshops with the mentors and new teachers throughout the school year. The training would be available for up to 35 teachers and cost the district $6,000, Howe said.
There would be additional costs to pay stipends to the mentor teachers, although how many mentors and how expensive the stipend would be is undetermined. Howe said Csizmesia would be responsible for determining the stipends, although the principal had to leave the school board meeting prior to the presentation for personal reasons to speak with the board about that. Csizmesia was also out of school Thursday.
Chairman Todd Wilkins said before he could support the program he would have to have an estimated costs. Board member Maureen Harvey said something similar and that she was hesitant spending money on the program this year when it was not budgeted for and their are already concerns about the accuracy of line items in the budget.
More answers regarding the costs are expected to be presented at the board’s next meeting.
Howe said he understands the concerns about costs, but that it would be worth it. "It’s an investment the school district really, really should invest in," he said.
In the future, Howe said, teacher mentoring is going to be a requirement in the Department of Education licensing process and School Quality Standards. In recent years there have been bills in the legislature to mandate mentoring systems, although they have not passed due largely to a concern of it being an unfunded mandate by the state.
In addition to teacher mentoring, the district is working on a mentoring program for coaches, and Special Education Director Dawn Campbell said she is also planning for a similar type of professional development for new staff in her department.
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